"They want to take him away... We haven't spent more than a few nights apart in 63 years..." Hilda's voice is trailing off. I feel a knot form in my throat.
A lot of my coworkers are not the hand holding type. They say that getting too attached to your patients is a bad thing. They say that getting too emotionally involved can end your career and reduce you to twice-weekly psychiatrist visits.
I can't help it. I'm a hand-holder.
When I see someone truly hurting, physically or emotionally, it's in my nature to want to help if I can. Even if it's just to hold their hand, stroke their hair, or listen. It's part of being human. I believe that most of my patients really just want someone to hear them.
I pull my purple gloves off and place my hand over hers. "So, have you talked to Oscar about this?" I give her a gentle squeeze.
"I tried... He just won't listen to a word of it." Hilda retrieves a tissue from her pocket. Her sweater reminds me of one my Grandma used to wear, with Christmas Trees and snow covered hills embroidered into it. The tissue has soaked up its fair share of tears today. I reach across the table and grab the box so she can have a fresh one.
"Thank You Dear."
"Ma'am, you're very welcome. What about your children, have they talked to him yet?"
Hilda shakes her head. "Jeff and Jeannie are coming up this weekend. They're living in Pennsylvania now." Hilda wipes her tears away, but more follow. One by one they fall down her pink cheeks.
Partner pokes his head around the corner, "Epi? Chair time is in twenty five minutes, we're going to be late."
I nod and turn back to Hilda, squeezing her hand one more time. "Ma'am, will you be okay? Is there a friend I can call for you? Or the Social Worker here?"
"I'll be okay. They're going to come today when he gets back from his treatment. I guess I should start packing his things. Do you think they'll allow him to have some personal items? Like our Wedding picture, or some flowers?"
My heart hurts for her. It's hard not to put myself in her position. "I'm sure it won't be a problem." I get to my feet. I don't want to leave her, but the clock is ticking and dispatch is already paging us for an update. I don't know what else to say to her, She's sitting at that table, She's confused and sad, and heartbroken.
All I want to do is give her a hug. "Ma'am, we have to get Oscar over to Regional, they get pretty upset with us when we're late."
"You go on ahead. And please, call me Hilda. None of this Ma'am silliness. You kids are like family to us. Don't forget your cookies now." Hilda smiles. I feel a little better.
As my Partner and I are rolling the stretcher out to our truck, Oscar pipes up. "What were you two gals talking about in there? Did you get my beef jerky? My Hildy, she can talk a wildcat's ear off."
I hold up the zip lock bag with the jerky in it. "It's right here, Oscar." I hand it to him and he clutches it possessively.
"You didn't eat any, did you?" He's accusing more than asking.
"Oscar, I promise, if there's any missing my Partner ate it." I laugh, looking back at Partner. He looks shocked that I joke with patients. "It's okay, Partner. Hey, where's the cookies?"
His look of disappointment says it all. "I forgot them. I guess the next crew will score a snack."
Oscar and my partner are loaded in the back of the truck. It's starting to snow. I have a feeling Oscar might be a little late.
She was soon pregnant.
Jeffrey was their first child, followed by Gwen and Rita, the twins, and the baby of the bunch, Frank. Hilda never failed to catch me up on their lives.
She never worked a day in her life outside of the home. She was a firm believer that her primary job was her children.
"You know, Oscar worked three jobs in the beginning. Thank the Lord he was able to get in over at the Jeep plant, or I don't know what would have happened. No one can be expected to keep up that pace. He was working so hard for us."
I nodded. "That must have been very hard on him."
Hilda's smile was fading, "It was. He just kept drinking until he got sick."
"What day is it? Wednesday... That means Oscar, Jose, the Guy from Arbors, and the two at Maumee." I rub my temples, it's been a long day. "...And Unit 27 and 34 went out to the East side, so that just leaves Oscar and Jose."
The radio traffic picks up. "Unit 26... Two-Six... Head on over to Regional Dialysis, take a patient back to Lutheran Assisted Living, time out 1640."
I squeal like a little kid, "We're going to get Os-car... We're going to get Os-car!" I do a little dance from the passenger seat.
Partner already thinks I've lost my mind. "I've never seen someone so excited over a tote."
"Mr. Medic, you committed a cardinal sin. You left the damn cookies."
We load Oscar up and begin the twenty minute trip back to his apartment. Partner takes patient care, and I can hear him doing a little bonding of his own in the back. Apparently Oscar and Partner share a love of all things Jeep related.
The snow has stopped and the sun, even though it's setting, finally makes an appearance.
We walk through the long hallways of the facility, turning here, dodging this drug car there, doing our best to not bump Oscar's elbows.
Finally we find their apartment. It couldn't be any farther from the entrance of the building. The only room further is a broom closet.
Hilda's neighbor opens their door before we can knock. I recognize her instantly. Her husband had been a patient of mine a few times at the last company I worked for.
"Well Hello Mrs.--"
Mrs. Eaton cuts me off abruptly. "Hilda is sick... Come take a look at her for me?"
We wheel Oscar into the living room. "Sure, we'll take a look at her." Partner says. "Let's get Oscar into his bed first," his tone bordering on impatient.
It's closing in on the end of the shift, and we're both exhausted. "We'll be right in there, go sit with her for a minute and we'll be right there." She follows his instructions.
We work on getting Oscar into his bed. Partner is rolling his eyes and fluffing a pillow when it happens.
"OH my God Hilda??? HILDA????" Mrs Eaton, the neighbor is screaming from the kitchen.
I will NEVER forget the sound of her voice. She was terrified. I was terrified.
Partner flew out of Oscar's room. I raised the rail on Oscar's bed and ran after him. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
On the floor of the kitchen crumpled like a rag doll was Hilda. She was grey. She was unconscious. She looked... dead.
"Jesus Christ." Partner was shaking her shoulders. "Ma'am? Are you okay? He instinctively checks her airway and for a pulse while I stare with my jaw on the floor.
"Epi, no pulse."
All I could do was stare at him. I was frozen. NO pulse? She's not the sick one. HE is the sick one. She's the one who makes cookies for us.
"EPI. COMPRESSIONS. NOW!!!" He yells at me. He's not requesting, He's ordering. He reaches for the portable radio and starts rambling to dispatch about having "Emergency Traffic".
I drop to my knees and place my hands together right in her nipple line. I pause for a second. I've never done compressions on a human before. I start pushing. I push hard. I hear and feel a crack. Every hair on my body stands on end. I pull my hands up.
Wait, that's supposed to happen.
I go back to doing compressions. I can't look at her face. Another crunch. This time I don't stop. I just count. I don't know why I'm counting.
Mrs. Eaton is sobbing. I can hear Oscar yelling from the bedroom. I keep pushing. The horrible crunching noise has stopped. I stare at the wall while I push. I truly believe if I can't see her face, if I don't look at her, if I don't see her as a person, I'll be okay.
Partner appears with the BVM. The nervousness I saw in him over the course of the shift has vanished from his face. He's focused. "Stop, Epi."
I pull my hands up. He delivers two breaths with the BVM. I start pushing again.
"Do you need to switch?" Partner asks me. I shake my head no.
"Who's coming?" I ask. I'm starting to sweat. My hair is sticking to my face. It occurs to me that I'm actually worried about which ALS crew is responding. It seemed odd to me somehow.
Partner gives her two more breaths. "Four is coming, and the Captain. You need to switch?"
I'm good for another couple minutes. My heart is pounding, I'm soaked in sweat. The muscles in my arms are raw. I just can't bring myself to stop. I look around Hilda's apartment and see the plate of christmas cookies on the kitchen table. I shake away memories of her reminding us to take the cookies.
After what seems like an hour but was in reality about six minutes, our assistance Unit Four comes running down the hallway. Favorite Medic and his partner the Pinup have the LP, Airway bag and drug bag. They start talking to Partner.
My arms are getting tired. I start to panic. I look up at Pinup, who is one of my favorite EMT's.
"Jesus, EPI... Let me take over." She all but pushes me aside. I sit back and she takes over. I feel defeated. I curse my recently healed broken humerus. For the first time I look at Hilda's face.
I look at Hilda. The adoring Wife of Oscar. The doting mother of four, Grandmother of 7, and Great Grandmother of 2. I watch as Favorite Medic rips Hilda's sweater and shirt off and cuts through her bra. I sit on the floor with my back against her cabinets and try to not think about Oscar and where he's going to end up. I don't realize it, but I'm crying.
But you know I can't.